KTM AG is the largest motorcycle manufacturer in Europe and among the leading off-road motorcycle manufacturers worldwide. It is owned by Pierer Mobility AG and Bajaj Auto Limited International Holdings B.V. The company has 13 subsidiaries, 307 world championship titles, and tons of two-wheeler models under its belt. KTM’s strong presence in the motorcycling scene seems to leave no question for the Austrian firm except for one – What does KTM stand for?
KTM stands for Kraftfahrzeuge Trunkenpolz Mattighofen, an Austrian motorcycle, and sports car company. The firm is known as KTM AG – the last two letters being short for the German word aktiengesellschaft, which means share or joint-stock company.
KTM AG creates specialty motorcycles that are race-ready, long-distance worthy, and built for adventure. Read on, as things only get more interesting for this European manufacturer.
What Does KTM Stand For?
Formerly known as KTM Sportmotorcycle AG, KTM AG translates to Kraftfahrzeuge Trunkenpolz Mattighofen Aktiengesellschaft (German pronunciation: [ˈaktsi̯ənɡəˌzɛlʃaft]).
- Kraftfahrzeuge is a German word that means a motorized or automotive vehicle.
- Trunkenpolz is the surname of the founder, Johann (Hans) Trunkenpolz.
- Mattighofen is a town in Upper Austria and the headquarters of the sport motorcycle firm.
AG is short for the German word Aktiengesellschaft. It refers to a corporation owned by its shareholders whose shares may be up for trade on a stock market.
Aktiengesellschaft is also used in Austria, Switzerland, and South Tyrol. In Switzerland, it is equivalent to a société anonyme or a società per azioni. In South Tyrol, it is a determinant for companies incorporated there. It is also used in Luxembourg (as aktiëgesellschaft), although the country more customarily utilizes the equivalent French term société anonyme. Similar terms in other countries include PLC in the United Kingdom and incorporated or corporation in the United States. While the word aktien means shares, the use of this term in German is restricted to aktiengesellschaften. Other types of German companies use the term anteile instead of aktien.
Trunkenpolz’ Humble Beginnings
KTM dates back to 1934 when Johann (Hans) Trunkenpolz opened a car workshop in Zum Schwarzen Adler in Mattighofen, Austria. He earned his master craftsman’s certificates as a machinist and motor mechanic. His hard work resulted in the takeover of DKW, the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer at the time. His workshop continued to prosper until he had to leave the business for military service in 1943.
Following WWII, Hans’ business went back to vehicle repairs because of demand and the war’s impact on spare parts. He employed 35 people and expanded the company to include a drop-forge and foundry. In 1948, Hans began specializing in the production of crankshaft bearings. Things were looking good near the end of the war, as he created new jobs and doubled his workforce size. But soon after, he suffered revenue losses as truck repair orders plummeted. Only the manufacture of spare parts kept him afloat.
Despite this hardship, Hans thought of the perfect comeback. Since many could not afford a car after the war, he developed a lightweight, engine-powered motorcycle. He introduced the R100, which he later presented to the public in 1953 with the abbreviation KTM. All components of the R100 were produced in-house, except for the 98-cc Rotax engines, which were made by Fichtel & Sachs. The company then released 100 R100 motorcycles, with 20 employees producing three motorcycles a day. Between 1955 and 1957, KTM built the first sports motorcycle, the Trophy 125-cc. The name also changed to Kronreif & Trunkenpolz Mattighofen, with businessman Ernst Kronreif becoming a sizeable shareholder.
KTM underwent directional changes between 1958 and 1964. They ceased motorcycle production, introduced scooters and mopeds, and had Erich Trunkenpolz take charge of the company. The year after, KTM introduced the Comet, which skyrocketed to 10,000 rolls in the next three years. 1968 saw the introduction of the cross-country Penton Six Days dirt bike to the U.S. market. By 1970, KTM stopped relying on Fichtel & Sachs and produced their own engines, along with 250-cc motocross bikes.
The company grew from 1971 to 1980 and added new models to its product line. KTM began production of the motocross and Enduro bikes in 1973. They produced their own 125-cc engine in 1976, and established KTM America Inc. in Lorain, Ohio. By 1981, it was already producing water-cooled motocross bikes.
Crash and Burn
The company’s future looked very promising, with 42 different motorized vehicles since its founding 40 years ago. KTM began outfitting motocross models with rear suspensions, front and rear disc brakes, motors and radiators, and water-cooled, four-stroke engines until 1987. Averaging 93,700 bikes per year and an annual turnover of €54.5 M, the manufacturer began to decline. Three years after, it halted its scooter production, saw the death of Erich Trunkenpolz, and filed for bankruptcy in 1991. Austrian investment trust GIT Trust Holding attempted to salvage the company beforehand but to no avail.
Back to the Beginning
In 1992, KTM split into four new entities:
- KTM Sportmotorcycle GmbH (motorcycles division)
- KTM Fahrrad GmbH (bicycles division)
- KTM Kühler GmbH (radiators division)
- KTM Werkzeugbau GmbH (tooling division)
KTM Sportmotorcycle GmbH thrived the most and brought KTM AG to where it is today. Its success started with two fundamental components – new leadership and long-term branding. Their rebirth began when Stefan Pierer took charge, and Gerald Kiska won the design for the company’s LC4-based motorcycle. Pierer has strengthened his partnership with design outfit KISKA, responsible for the company’s overall image to this day.
From here, the rest is history. The company expanded through acquisitions, including acquiring Husqvarna firm from BMW Motorrad. They also grew with strategic automotive innovations, co-ownership with Indian manufacturer Bajaj Auto, and recognition through a multitude of competition wins. Among its industry-leading concepts are the PDS Linkless suspension system for two-stroke models and the 2008 KTM Renegade Prestige and 2009 KTM Lycan 1.0 designs. The motorcycle company had gone through a lot of restructuring, resulting in KTM Motorradholding GmbH becoming KTM AG in 2012. Of the four separate divisions left after the 1992 split, KTM Fahrrad GmbH (KTM Bike Industries) remains an independent company owned by Chinese investors. KTM Sportmotorcycle GmbH, KTM Werkzeugbau GmbH, and KTM Kühler GmbH (today WP Radiators) are now again part of the KTM Group.
This video by Red Bull shows how KTM manufactures develops some of the most innovative bikes in the world:
Team Orange: KTM’s Rebirth
Like Ferrari’s red and Kawasaki‘s green, orange is much more than just a color to KTM. This hue signifies the company’s “Ready to Race” philosophy. Today, all competition-ready KTMs come in bright orange plastic with KTM inscribed on the radiator coverings’ side. KTM race teams use the official company colors orange, black, and silver, except for teams participating in the Dakar Rally.
For a company with humble beginnings, having a brand color was necessary. In the mid-’50s, red was for Italy and silver for Germany. Then, by the early ’70s, the color of the tank indicated its displacement. At KTM, green was for 100-cc, red for 125-cc, and blue for 175-cc.
Team Orange was Born
It was not until 1992 that Team Orange was born when KTM awarded the design contract to young Gerald Kiska. His design team handles all of the company’s development and launch. It all started when KTM held a contest for an LC4-based motorcycle design, which Kiska and his small five-person team won.
This win was untimely, as KTM filed for bankruptcy and was split into four divisions shortly after. With Stefan Pierer, the KISKA partnership that began a year before continued to grow. Controversial discussions surrounding the first-edition Duke did not deter the designer’s brilliant ideas from flowing. Soon enough, the color orange quickly became KTM’s identifier on the international racetrack. Furthermore, 1996 Motocross World Champion Shayne King and favored racers like Mika Kallio, Brad Binder, and Jeffrey Herlings made the new design world-famous.
Successful operations enabled KTM Sportmotorcycle GmbH to eventually take over its sibling tooling division, KTM Werkzeugbau. They steadily increased revenue, made new investments, introduced new models, and took part in various motorsport events. KTM became a force in the motorsports arena. They also grew in tech and design innovations and company turnover, beating BMW in record-setting sales in 2014.
These videos show the work put in by the design team responsible for reviving the KTM brand:
Product Line-Up & Milestones
Over 86 years, KTM has produced some of the best motorized vehicles and mountain bikes. Here are a few of them:
Motocross is designated by SX and includes kids and youth bikes. It consists of 50/65/85 displacements up to 250-cc single-cylinder two-stroke models and 450-cc single-cylinder four-stroke models (designated by SX-F and dubbed the RC4).
- KTM 125 SX (2006) – This championship-winning classic dirt bike weighs 39.5 lbs. It has a fantastic power-to-weight ratio, boasts an impressive WP AER 48 front fork and rear-shock suspension system.
- KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition (2020) – Dirt bike featuring a powerful 450-cc four-stroke, SOHC engine, slim, lightweight chassis, a floating front brake disc, and a factory-installed hole-shot device.
Its designation is XC and includes 150 to 300-cc two-stroke models and 250 to 450-cc four-stroke models. The two-stroke machines come with either wide-ratio or close-ratio transmission (except the 150-cc), and the four-stroke models with a semi-close gearbox. KTM fits most models with an electric starter, and featherweight XC bikes are strictly for competition and do not meet homologation regulations.
- Penton 125 Six-Day (1968) – This classic was KTM’s entry into dirt bike production. The Penton featured a silver-painted frame and a Fichtel & Sachs engine with a cast-iron cylinder. It also had a five-speed transmission, a Bing carb, aluminum fenders, Metzeler tires, and Ceriani suspension.
- KTM 300 XC-W Six Days (2017) – This thoroughbred dirt bike is part of the KTM Six Days line up. It boasts a twin-valve controlled power valve, vibration-reducing balancer shaft, and a hydraulic DDS clutch-operated six-speed transmission.
These cross-country bikes are street-legal versions supplied with a plusher non-linkage suspension, wider-ratio gearbox, and lights.
- KTM 450 EXC (2009) – 4-stroke Enduro off-road motorcycle features six gears, a hydraulically-operated wet clutch, and a chain drive.
- KTM 250 EXC-F (2017) – This road-legal machine has state-of-the-art chassis paired with a light and compact 60-lbs engine. It offers excellent power, and has a great center of gravity that helps boost the rider’s confidence.
Be blown away by the full line-up of KTM’s EXC 2020 Enduro range in this video:
Freeride is a cross between Enduro and trials bikes. The Freeride series is powered by a lighter, modified version of EXC engines. It is twinned with a unique six-speed gearbox with a close-ratio wide-ratio transmission combination. All-electric single-speed models – Freeride E-SX, Freeride E-XC, and Freeride E-SM – are available in Europe.
- KTM Freeride 250 R (2014) – A two-stroke gasoline-powered 250-cc single-cylinder with a torquey motor. It has plush suspensions, and a reliable gearbox that can get you past dry riverbeds and over diverse terrain.
- FREERIDE E-XC (2020) features zero emissions, WP suspensions, energy-recuperation technology, and the same no-limits attitude as its gasoline-powered sibling.
It goes by the designation SM, SMC R, and SMR. KTM was the first to offer the public a competition-ready supermoto bike. This latest version had the single-cylinder LC4 power unit and hydraulically actuated APTC slipper clutch.
- KTM Duke 620 (1994) – First stock supermoto bike/street bike
- KTM 690 Supermoto (2006) – Its redesign included a slipper clutch, lighter valves, a balancer shaft, and a ride-by-wire throttle system.
KTM currently produces the 790, 1090, and 1290 dual-sport adventure bikes. They include a LC8/LC8c engine, a slipper clutch, electronically controlled riding modes, and TFT display for the 1290 and 790 models.
- 640 LC4 Adventure (1997) – KTM’s first adventure bike equipped with the famed LC4 engine with an electric starter.
- KTM Super Adventure 1290 R (2015) – An uncompromising big bike with a liquid-cooled 1301-cc V-twin engine features spoked wheels, knobby tires, ABS, cruise control, and an adjustable windscreen.
Duke and Superduke models fall under this trim. Engine displacement ranges from 125 to 1290-cc. 200, 250, and 390. Duke models are currently produced by Bajaj Auto in Pune, India. Only the Duke 390 exports to European countries and North America.
- KTM Duke 690 (2012) – The fourth generation in KTM’s supermoto which began with the 1994 Duke 620 or Duke I.
- KTM 990 Superduke (2006) – This ultra-precise and agile bike boasts a 75-degree V-twin four-stroke LC8 motor, 118 HP, and a six-gear, dog-clutch engagement transmission.
This trim is quite similar to KTM’s naked bike except for modifications intended for more touring comfort. A perfect example is the 1290 Superduke GT that features a longer and more robust frame. It also has a larger fuel tank, modified handlebar, and 75-degree V-twin four-stroke LC8 motor.
These are street-legal versions of bikes that compete in street races with the designation RC.
- KTM RC 125 (2008) – It is incredibly spacious and powerful despite only having 15 hp. It has a petrol saver with a fuel economy of 90 mpg.
- KTM RC 390 (2020) – This two-wheeler has an extremely sporty aesthetic and incredible engine performance. It has a Bosch 9.1 MB Two-Channel ABS if you’re feeling ready to hit the ground running.
Although retired, KTM has produced some of the best superbikes from 2008 to 2015. They include the 1190 RC8 Superbike, a homologated superbike for competitions.
X-Bow (Pronounced cross-bow) is a series of two-seater sports cars known as the X-Bow RR, the X-Bow GT4, X-Bow R, and the X-Bow GT. The latter two are street-legal in Europe, North America, China, and Australia. It is the world’s first street-legal car with a full carbon fiber structure developed in cooperation with Italian racing car manufacturer Dallara.
KTM’s ATV 525 features a liquid-cooled, four-stroke, single-cylinder 34-mm Keihin carburetor, a wide usable rev range with a close-ratio transmission, hydraulic clutch, and a throttle positioning sensor.
KTM almost single-handedly continued creating and improving two-stroke machines when others stopped. The company has taken up a very high proportion of the current two-stroke bike market as a result. Their more recent two-stroke models burn cleaner thanks to advancements like TPI (transfer port injection) engines.
Conclusion – What Does KTM Stand For?
So if someone asks the question, “what does KTM motorcycles stand for”, now you know. This tiny, metal-working repair shop has grown into the motorsport giant we see today. Their history proves its propensity for innovation and its unshakable resiliency for great comebacks. KTM has done virtually everything to keep its staff inspired and its products relevant. It may not be the case for other manufacturers who have struggled in the world of dirt bike riding.
For this Austrian behemoth, there’s no thrill comparable to enjoying the freedom it offers. The only way to live that moment is to be on a bike that is as spirited as its rider.